Miss Understanding

She is interesting…and intriguing. Somewhere along the line, I developed an urge to understand her. I normally don’t attempt to understand abstract maths, modern art, and women. For a little over a forth of a century, I successfully resisted any temptation to understand them. There was one slip though, when a friend convinced me that abstract maths was just like the rest of maths. I applied myself with tremendous energy and soon the ‘rest of maths’ started appearing hazy too. I told him that the rest is now looking abstract. He was rather pleased at my newfound understanding. I tried telling him that there is a crucial difference between ‘abstract maths being like the rest of it’ and ‘rest of maths being like abstract maths’. Being the mathematical type he never got the point. In any case I never attempted abstract maths again.

With modern art I was luckier. On most occasions I pass them without recognising that an object d’art is around. I had to face the discomfort of confronting modern art only when some unrecognisable thing was either mounted on a frame or put on a pedestal. But then due to a strong Hindu upbringing, I accepted any interpretation that is given about these objects d’art without any question.

With women too I’ve had it very smooth. Since my contact and conversation with women is rather minimal, there arose no issue of understanding women. My shyness provided additional protection. In Tamil Nadu they call me ‘Samathu’, a word denoting high state of virtue.

In the above respects my life was rather uneventful till I got to know her. As days went by, my liking for her grew and at some point of time I developed this urge to understand her! Before you continue, I should confess that I’ve just got nowhere. But like my earlier attempt to understand abstract maths, I applied myself rather hard.

Let us start with what brought me closest to victory. During a recent trip to Jaipur she told me that I can understand her only if I read a book called “L’Etranger”. I visited a large number of bookshops and did not find the book there. At a moment of inspiration I thought of the translation and started searching for “The Stranger”. I found the book immediately at Connemora library. I then checked on the net and found out that this was indeed the book. I’ve hit the Jack Pot! I read the book immediately. Now, don’t ask me what I got out of the book. I certainly understood the plot, but the book is also supposed to be about a philosophy called ‘existentialism’. On that account, I am quite confused. The book, for example, said things like this:

“There are places where the mind dies so that a truth which is its very denial may be born”

I am not sure what to make out of something like this; but I am sure she understands. Despite my lack of understanding, I returned to Delhi with a certain sense of triumph. One day I casually slipped to her that I read ‘the stranger’. She told me quite dismissively that it is ‘the outsider’ and not the stranger. I was loosing faster than I imagined. I told her that the book was titled “the stranger”. “If you have understood the book correctly, you would understand that L’Etranger stands for outsider”, she said. The argument both confirmed my suspicions and sealed the debate.

Now that we had started discussing Albert Camus (the author of ‘the stranger’), she started telling me that she prefers existentialism of Camus to that of Sartre. It then dawned on me that I’ve far more work on me than I imagined. Apart from loading Sartre over Camus, she also mentioned someone called ‘Neitze’. Microsoft word has underlined the name in red, which means I have not spelled it right. When I tried the spell check, it gave me the following options: Neither, Nitre, Neater, Neaten and Nets, which sounds like he could be German, English, French, Swedish or American.

She reads and does such unusual things that it is impossible to know her without additional effort. Once I put the additional effort to catch up with her, she shoots in all directions and leaves me flabbergasted. Suppose I read Sartre and that ‘Neitze fellow’, I am sure she will shoot five more names and leave me panting for a few more months. I can only imagine the nightmare of discussing the difference between the existentialism of Sartre, Camus and that ‘Neitze fellow’. I just checked the net and found out other people in the category: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, S¿ren Kierkegaard, Franz Kafka. I can hardly pronounce their names in the first place; god knows what it will take for me to get what these guys have to say!

I am slowly getting convinced that she is made of the wrong stuff. To begin with she is unconventional. Nobody can live in society without conventions. Sensible people are as conventional as they can bear to be, for conventionality saves so much time and thought and trouble. That does not mean that we understand ‘conventional women’; but we are very comfortable with what they do. I wonder if my effort will yield anything. I am constantly reminded these days of the age old wisdom: ‘you just cant understand these women!’. It is slowly dawning on me that like modern art, she is meant to be appreciated and not to be understood. I guess I will give up this venture, but not before reading Sartre and that ‘Neitze fellow’.

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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